Apple eyes 'lifting' voice of companies committed to clean energy

Apple VP and former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
Wellesley College
Apple VP and former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Adding to the recent reveal of the iPhone 8 and 10, today Apple announced that six more of its suppliers have committed to using 100 percent clean energy in their operations in order to align with its goal for its operations, and those of its supply chain, to be completely powered by renewables.

These suppliers include Mega Precision Technology, Wistron, Qorvo, Sunway Communications, Golden Arrow and Yuto Packaging Technology. The new commitments bring the total number of its suppliers working towards a renewable energy goal to 14.

"We didn't start with the smallest suppliers," said Lisa Jackson, Apple's vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, at VERGE 17 in Santa Clara, California. "We started a portal with information and a roadmap for suppliers who want to do this. There are hundreds that are engaged and want to join the list."

Jackson said that the carbon emissions for its new iPhones are down by 6 percent compared to previous generation models, and the packaging carbon footprint is down over 50 percent for both phones.

Jackson, a chemical engineer who served as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under former President Barack Obama, hinted that the company may take a stronger role in influencing clean energy legislation.

"Apple will soon be doing more on lifting the voice of even companies like ours," she said.

In 2015, Apple dialed up its renewable energy ambitions to include suppliers. Although it was already running its U.S. operations on renewables since 2014, its supply chain was consuming about 60 times as much electricity as Apple's corporate operations. In 2016, it got eight suppliers, including Jabil, on board. The company used a combination of green bonds and borrowed funds to help the push.

"We are at 2.8 gigawatts of the 4 gigawatts that we committed to by 2020," she said.

Jackson also revealed that the company's Japanese operations will source 100 percent renewable energy, bringing the number of committed countries to 25. She said that Japan was previously a "'no' on our list," but is now working with local solar developers to do 300 rooftop installations and floating photovoltaics.

Responding to concerns that the inability to remove iPhone batteries hurts their recyclability, Jackson claimed that it is a "myth" that battery replacement drives cell phone repairs, and said Apple is making headway on circular economy applications for its products.

"You have to change the value chain to process that material and put it back in the supply chain," she said. Apple's engineers focused on the carbon intensity of the aluminum-and-glass enclosures in its new iPhones, as well as the power intensity required by hydropower smelting to produce it. The aluminum in the iPhone 8 produces 11 percent less greenhouse gases per gram than the iPhone 7 and 83 percent less than iPhone 6.

Working with less carbon-intensive materials poses a cost challenge, said Jackson. "The problem with saying 'jump' and 'how high' [to suppliers] is that there is a cost and we have to pay it. ... We would love suppliers to come along with us."

Jackson said that government also has a role to play in fostering innovation. GreenBiz co-founder Joel Makower pressed her about the federal government's current refusal to accept climate science and promise to slash EPA funding by 31 percent. Jackson noted the power the private sector wields to influence policy, and its responsibility to advocate support for sustainability.

"You do not have to choose between a clean environment and a growing economy, and you can't have one without the other," she said.

Small and large businesses, governments and mayors "can move the morass of Washington right now," especially when pressing for environmental policies that positively affect human health, she said.

If new EPA chief Scott Pruitt granted her one wish, Jackson said, it would be that the government would "listen to the scientists, professionals and dedicated employees in the EPA."